Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Aeneid - Virgil

The Aeneid
Virgil
Trans. Robert Fitzgerald
Vintage
Copyright: 1990
978-0679729525

The amazon.com product description:
Virgil's great epic transforms the Homeric tradition into a triumphal statement of the Roman civilizing mission. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald.
Okay, I've seen some non-descriptive descriptions before, but this one's pretty near the top. Still, I guess it does sum things up fairly neatly.

Although The Aeneid is written in the Homeric style, it dates from much later - the time of Augustus. The poem is also unfinished, or so the postscript says, because Virgil died. This is one of the most famous of the Roman poems too.

The Aeneid deals with the story of Aeneas' travels from the conquered city of Troy after the Trojan War as told in The Illiad and The Odessey, when he journeyed to Italy to found a new city on the commands of Venus. As to this particular translation? I can't say anything about the translation from my own experience, not having enough latin to even attempt the original. But, the Fitzgerald translation was the one we had in class at college. Also, there's a review from Bernard Knox on the back cover, who's written the introduction to the Fagles translation of The Aeneid IIRC. I can definitely say that this is a very readable book.

On the other hand, I felt like I needed a detailed map of the Mediterranean with all the old names in order to follow the route that Aeneas takes. That's one thing that this book lacks: a good map. I would have said also that I needed a glossary to the names, but I discovered that hiding at the very end of the book after I finished the read last night. Otherwise, I'd likely have found myself resorting to hoping the Oxford Classical Dictionary had them. I'm still thinking of doing that anyway.

Reading this with my notes (such as they were) from class was definitely interesting. They reminded me of the use of simile and elaborate naming conventions which are rife throughout the poem. There's also the traditional invocation of the Muses, both at the beginning of The Aeneid and then again several times throughout.

This poem drops names left, right and center. Especially during the battle scenes of the final two or three books. I kept going "who's that?" and "which side is he on again?". Because of that, I felt that they went on too long and I found myself skimming. Admittedly, that's because I was completely lost.

There are also quite a few references to events that happened after the time of Aeneas but up to the time of Augustus. The scene in the underworld and also the scenes depicted on Aeneas' shield were two of the best examples of those, and that's why I'm thinking of resorting to the Oxford Classical Dictionary. I shouldn't admit this, given that I went to University for Classical Studies, but I missed a lot of those references.

Overall though, I quite liked the read. I read The Aeneid for the Pre-Printing Press Challenge, and also because I was inspired by my read of Jo Graham's novel based on the poem: Black Ships.
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